Social Game Studies report

The Social Game Studies group have released their workshop report. This is some of the first academic research on social games.

I think academia tends to lag behind what is happening with video games outside the “core” space – even almost a year after A Casual Revolution came out, there is little writing on casual games. Even after Sony and Microsoft have changed their strategies to capture the new market.

Why this lag? I suspect that there is a typical selection problem that the people most likely to go into game studies are the people most dedicated to traditional game culture. But there really ought to be hordes of dedicated Facebook gamers doing PhDs on farming games.

The report in question is from a July 2010 workshop “Social Game Studies: What Do We Know, What Might We Learn?” under the following call:

“In tune with the relative newness of the hybrid medium that is social games, this workshop pursues two goals: One, to take stock of the academic and industry research on social games that has been done or is currently being conducted. Two, to identify what (if anything) makes social games different to video games on the one hand and social networks on the other: Which theoretical approaches and methodologies promise to capture these characteristics, which new data sources, methodologies and research questions do social games afford?”

Get the report here:

www.socialgamestudies.org/report

19 thoughts on “Social Game Studies report”

  1. Academia always lags. That’s a fact. It you think about it, we had videogames commercially available since the 70’s, but there were some a reasonable amount of academic studies in the subject only after the 90’s and it became a structured field only in the last decade.
    I really believe that this report come in a perfect timing, since now we do have a good amount of data on social games and social games company are well positioned in the market [Zinga now value more than EA]. Great work!

  2. I would submit that it’s precisely this sort of attention to trends that has hamstrung game studies (it’s not the only culprit). Rather than asking deep, complex, far-ranging questions about the operation, construction, aesthetics, use, and impact of videogames, most of the work in game studies carts out methodological hobby horses or obsesses about favorite objects of study.

    The very idea of a splinter field of “social game studies” strikes me as perverse and retrograde. Why so much focus on field building rather than an expansion of relevance and impact?

  3. I think that the fact that academia always lags is the key here (as Thais pointed out). Part of that is the nature of the beast (people probably are writing Farmville PhDs, they just take years to write and then get disseminated) and I think part of it is an intentional deliberateness in ascertaining longer historical arcs and determining the staying power and enduring relevance of any trend. That is what Ian is getting at in a sense as well. That being said, academia is responding faster to new trends and digital platforms make it easier to get these conversations going. So maybe it is time that more contemporaneous analysis happens through blogs and other publishing platforms.

    As far as as splinter fields. Is that really what Social Game Studies is trying to do or are they just choosing to focus on a subset of games that ultimately falls within the larger spectrum of Games Studies? I see nothing wrong with that and in fact they are bringing to the fore games that a lot of people in “Traditional” Games Studies do disparage. As Jesper has pointed out, lets not fall into the old same academic bad habits that other disciplines have applied to games.

  4. “But there really ought to be hordes of dedicated Facebook gamer doing PhDs on farming games.”

    I think you mean there really should be hordes of PhDs on Kinect games and Move games…aren’t they the newest thing?

    I agree with Ian on this…chasing current favorites is seldom the way to achieve a deep understanding…

  5. @Kimon
    “As far as as splinter fields. Is that really what Social Game Studies is trying to do or are they just choosing to focus on a subset of games that ultimately falls within the larger spectrum of Games Studies? I see nothing wrong with that…”

    Sure. Agreed. However, what’s wrong with just doing the work? Why must there be a “social game studies” movement with workshops and white papers and all the other trappings of institution building? I find many insightful ideas and directions in the report and I respect and admire all of the researchers who contribute to it. I’d draw attention to the fact that the report Jesper links does not make as explicit a call for sub-field-building as does Jesper in this post.

    One more thing:

    “in fact they are bringing to the fore games that a lot of people in ‘Traditional’ Games Studies do disparage…”

    Oughtn’t the disparagement of a certain kind of game count as a kind of study of it?

  6. “Oughtn’t the disparagement of a certain kind of game count as a kind of study of it?”

    In this sense, shouldn’t we say Jack Thompson was a scholar of violent video games? I see your point but it seems a fine line…

  7. @Ian

    To me the work this group is doing is pretty harmless and is a typical subgroup doing work within a broader field and trying to delineate what are some of the specific research questions and methodologies that apply to their particular objects of study. I also don’t see Jesper calling for the formation of a sub-field and break away from other game studies. This post is more of an attempt to raise the awareness of the importance of social games which are often unfairly ghettoized. I would consider someone who has essentially created the sub-field of Persuasive Games and led similar conferences and workshops to that effect to be more sympathetic to all of this.

    “Oughtn’t the disparagement of a certain kind of game count as a kind of study of it?”

    Okay, we get it. You don’t like social games. You made a game explicitly to make fun of social games and social gamers. You’re doing the disparagement as scholarship thing and disparagement can be a kind of study. But, when that disparagement is accompanied by a dismissal or subjugation of the work of others studying that object or even worse of the players playing the games, well that’s not kosher. As a game studies person, you should just know better.

  8. @Jason, @Kimon
    We ought not essentialize. There’s knee-jerk panic and there’s thoughtful criticism. If game studies can only ever say happy fanboy things about games, we will have been fools.

  9. @Kimon
    “I also don’t see Jesper calling for the formation of a sub-field and break away from other game studies.”

    Re-reading the post, I agree with this.

    “But, when that disparagement is accompanied by a dismissal or subjugation of the work of others studying that object or even worse of the players playing the games, well that’s not kosher.”

    I reject the accusation of dismissal or subjugation. However, why would such acts “not be kosher?” Are game scholars not allowed to object to games, developers, or players in any way?

  10. @Ian,

    “We ought not essentialize. There’s knee-jerk panic and there’s thoughtful criticism. If game studies can only ever say happy fanboy things about games, we will have been fools.”

    I would agree with this. I mostly object to your use of the word “disparagement,” which I see as a far cry from thoughtful criticism. I would say something like “social games are boring and stupid, like sports [Hi Abe!]” would qualify as disparagement.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to start a long argument around connotations.

    To return to Jesper’s point, I think the obvious answer is that the academic machine is a slow and plodding one. Why aren’t people doing PhDs on social games? Well to start it’s a fairly recent phenomenon, so I doubt many people out there are ready, willing and able to supervise such a project. It’s also entirely possible that a lot of good scholarship on social games is simply trapped in publishing limbo, waiting to be reviewed and/or printed.

  11. @Jason
    On the first point, fair enough.

    On the second point, there’s an argument to be made that since social games are both unarchivable and changing so rapidly, it’s now or never. I’d find that sort of pragmatic position a much more compelling argument for alacrity than the moral one.

  12. @everybody
    As noted, I wasn’t calling for an entirely new separate field or discipline (whatever that means practically).

    As for the danger of always going after the latest and shiniest phenomenon, I think the ideal is to have a theory that’s well grounded in the history of the art form, but is also able to talk about new developments.

    The being a fan / non-being a fan thing is an issue onto itself – we have historically had both kinds in game studies. Ian, do you like newsgames?

    I think that casual games and social games are interesting because they are new ideas of what a video should be, who should be a video game player, and what type of relation you should have to a game. As such there is a substantial challenge in making sure that we have the theory to talk about them…

  13. @Jesper
    The fandom in media studies debate is something I’ve weighed in on before. As should be clear to anyone who knows me, I don’t tend to do things because I “like” them. I don’t study videogames because I’m a fan of them, I study them because they are a compelling candidate for the medium of the twenty-first century, and I want to understand that history and influence that potential.

  14. @Ian I know the fandom discussion has already happened, but I just think one can construct very plausible arguments both pro and con being a fan of whatever you are studying. I am not sure one can entirely generalize about that.

    Interestingly, I felt I took some flack for writing about casual games because some people assumed they were the only games I liked. (The horror! The horror!)

  15. @Ian,

    “I would submit that it’s precisely this sort of attention to trends that has hamstrung game studies (it’s not the only culprit).”

    “On the second point, there’s an argument to be made that since social games are both unarchivable and changing so rapidly, it’s now or never.”

    Does the reason for studying something (“it’s shiny” vs “now or never”) make much of a difference if the result is the same? Certainly we can debate endlessly the role of “objectivity” in such a study and how motivations might influence it, but we can’t always control for such things and we are not the only field who has to deal with this.

    And of course we can always use better theory. Anyway, the very nature of the field requires adaptability and paying attention to overnight shifts in the landscape. I would venture the important question is not “do you love games too much / not enough,” but rather “can you talk intelligently about all kinds of games.” It seems to me that this is how lit / film / art / etc. professors go about it.

  16. @Ian,

    I think it does, the questions are 1.) can/how do you know, and b.) even if you can answer 1, what can you do then? I can just envision many cases where these questions are unanswerable, and I’m not sure its worth spinning our wheels over.

    Of course there are instances where the impact of the researcher’s position is obvious, but I think these tend to be easily identified as such.

    In other words, of course there are “ideal” conditions under which research is done, which includes the researcher’s ideas, opinions, and attachment to the subject. But is there always a pragmatic value in chasing these questions? Can you force disinterested people to research something they don’t care about? And if so, can we prove the quality of their output is superior to that of a fan researching something they love? Who decides, and who enforces?

    I think it’s important to keep these questions in mind (as you clearly do), but ultimately I’m not sure we can do much beyond adjust our interpretations of writing/research accordingly.

    I don’t know, does that makes sense? :-)

  17. 3 definitions of social gaming that came out of the workshop:
    “Online games that adapt your online friendship ties for play purposes, while accommodating your daily routines.” “Games that play on social networks.”
    “making use of social networks to provide gameplay.”

    It seems that social gaming studies have more to do with sociology, namely structural functionalism, than they have to do with game studies. There’s no gameplay outside of behavioral Skinner boxes. I think the ‘social’ in social gaming is misleading, if anything, panoptical gaming seems more adequate.

  18. But there really ought to be hordes of dedicated Facebook gamers doing PhDs on farming games.
    And if so, can we prove the quality of their output is superior to that of a fan researching something they love? Who decides, and who enforces?

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